UN Chief Warns Burma’s Tensions Could Spread

Posted September 29th, 2012 at 7:45 pm (UTC-5)
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United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has warned that the unrest in Burma's Rakhine state could hurt the country's democratic reforms and spill across borders.

Mr. Ban raised the subject Saturday during a meeting with Burma's president, Thein Sein, and the head the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

He told Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who heads the 57-nation group, that the Rakhine troubles must be treated carefully because of the potential wider implications of the issue on Burma's reform process and on other countries.

Fighting between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western coastal state erupted in June. Officials say close to 90 people have been killed.

At the United Nations General Assembly this week, leaders of Muslim countries called for action to slow the deadly unrest.

The Burmese president promised the U.N. chief that his government would tackle the problem.

Thein Sein took over power in March of last year and began a process of reforming the country after decades of military rule. He told VOA Saturday that the news media will play an important role in the democratization of Burma.

“We have to thank media because they are telling the stories of the country which public should know about. By publishing or broadcasting by media, public would understand the situation, and I'm thankful for that.”

He also said that the government will continue its dialogue with Burma's armed ethnic minorities with the goal of obtaining permanent peace.

But the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in Burma do not have the status of ethnic minority, and many ordinary Burmese people say they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.

Thein Sein has been in New York at the same time as Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, once a longtime detainee of Burma's former military government. In a landmark speech to the General Assembly, the president praised her efforts on behalf of democracy.

On Saturday, Aung San Suu Kyi received an honorary doctorate from the University of San Francisco in California.